DAMASCUS, Syria – Thousands of Syrians lined the streets of the capital Wednesday waving banners and flags to welcome Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who pledged to stand by Syria in opposition to American "imperialist aggression" in the Middle East.
Syrian President Bashar Assad hosted Chavez at the People's Palace, where the two leaders strolled down a red carpet alongside a 21-gun salute while a marching band played the Syrian and Venezuelan national anthems.
"We have the same political vision and we will resist together the American imperialist aggression," Chavez told reporters upon his arrival at the Damascus airport late Tuesday. He said the two countries will sign a document opposing U.S. "aggression" in the Middle East.
Assad greeted Chavez at the airport and thanked him for his support for Middle Eastern nations, saying the Venezuelan president has made "great stands" in support of Arab causes.
"We appreciate your sincere feelings toward the peoples who have their rights and are under occupation, as well as your sincere humanitarian and moral sentiments," Assad was quoted as saying through an interpreter.
Chavez has built close ties with Iran, Syria and other Mideast countries while his relations have grown tense with the U.S. and Israel.
Earlier this month, Chavez compared Israel's attacks on Hezbollah militants in Lebanon to the Holocaust and withdrew Venezuela's ambassador to the Jewish state. Israel responded by recalling its ambassador to Venezuela, criticizing what it called Chavez's "wild slurs."
Last month, Chavez visited Iran and received the country's highest state medal for supporting Tehran in its nuclear standoff with the international community. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called the South American leader "a brother and trench mate."